Educators will tell you there was a time, not all that long ago, when folks in higher education had very little interest in working collaboratively to address the workforce needs of businesses in their communities. Those days are over. The needs are so great that there is now a recognition that unprecedented teamwork is necessary for the good of businesses and their potential employees.
That was one of the major takeaways from my visit last week to San Jacinto College in Pasadena, where I talked with Chancellor Brenda Hellyer and Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives Allatia Harris. They were happy to discuss everything from stories of women succeeding in the skilled trades to building specific plans for employers to make sure they’ve got the workforce they require.
“The demand to supply a qualified workforce is so great, that in community colleges for example, no one college, whether it's the largest of the group, or the one most centrally located to industry, no one can meet the needs,” Harris said. “We are having to partner across what historically have been boundaries,” she said, adding that educators can no longer say “this is my territory. I work with these students here, and this is yours.” Schools are sharing faculty, expertise, and even sharing students, Harris said. “That’s very new.”
“This is about a regional approach on meeting a workforce need,” Dr. Hellyer said. That includes the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, the Greater Houston Partnership’s Upskill Houston initiative, and the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
“All three of those groups, different groups that they are working with, but [they are] all focused around how we meet a workforce need. And it's our job as community colleges, it's our job as four-year universities to come together and figure that out. Industry does not need to have boundary issues. They need to know that they can come get things delivered and get the workforce they need,” Hellyer said.
Harris suggested the recent shift in Texas education policy to promote multiple pathways to a career will be a tremendous help.
“We have spent a number of years convincing people that the pathway to success is with a four year degree. As the local economy has changed and the world economy is changing, the opportunities have changed,” Harris said. “They don't know what the jobs are, what the opportunities are, and what the wages are. And then once they learn what the opportunities are, we have to help them understand how to get it,” she said.
Hellyer said one of the main challenges has to do with getting the word out about various programs that are available for employers and students.
“We are in the heart of petrochemical, the heart of maritime, NASA, and it is really about how do you get the word out about careers and that there is tremendous opportunity. These are careers that pay excellent dollars, and they take a certain level of skill set that people don't think about,” Hellyer said. “These aren't just blue collar jobs. These are jobs that require getting out there, understanding what the needs are, understanding that this is technical training, that this is high-skilled, and that the workforce expects you to be able to come to the table having those skills.”
These stories involve real people with real success stories. Hellyer gave the example of a young woman named Deanna who had been working in cosmetology, but that job wasn’t making ends meet.
“Deanna was a single parent, she was working in one profession, had gone to school to get into that profession, and realized that she needed something different for her family,” Hellyer said. The young woman returned to San Jacinto College to obtain a process tech degree. “Her first year out on the job she made $132,000 in W-2 earnings. She is back right now working on instrumentation because she sees that next level in her career, that she wants to progress, and she needs another skill set that she wants to add to that.”
You can watch the interview in the 8-minute video below.